Liberian warlord 'would not be safe' in UK prison

Charles Taylor may have sanctioned mass murder and rape in exchange for blood diamonds in West Africa, but his lawyers fear he would be unsafe in a British prison, it was revealed yesterday.

In submissions to the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the former Liberian warlord's defence team complained that the 80-year term recommended by the prosecution was "vindictive and excessive".

Furthermore, they pleaded for him not to be incarcerated in the UK, as is expected, because he would have to "intermix and interact with domestic prisoners", making him "more vulnerable to attack".

The former president, 64, is expected to be sentenced at the end of the month.

In April the court found him guilty on 11 counts of aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity relating to his role in the bloody civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

The court in The Hague heard that, while he publicly preached peace, he privately supported the RUF rebel movement as it waged a barbaric campaign which cost 50,000 lives and where machete amputations were common and girls were taken as sex slaves.

Taylor was rewarded with diamonds mined by slave labour, some of which he was famously alleged to have given to the model Naomi Campbell, although she denied it.

The Special Court found that he had provided support, including arms and ammunition, to rebels in Sierra Leone but not that he was responsible for ordering or instigating the atrocities.

In documents released yesterday before a sentencing hearing next Wednesday, his lawyers argued that the court should take into account his ill health and age. "Mr Taylor is now 64, a ripe age, dwarfed by the 80-year sentence requested by the prosecution," they said.

They argued that the judges should not support "attempts by the prosecution to provide the Sierra Leoneans with this external bogey man upon whom can be heaped the collective guilt of a nation for its predominantly self-inflicted wounds".

As a pre-requisite to the Dutch government hosting the trial in The Hague, the British Government signed an agreement that he could be imprisoned in the UK.